There are certain strange creatures that just about everyone has heard of. They include the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, and the Chupacabra. And there is one more strange entity that has become a definitive icon in the field of monster lore. Its name: Mothman. Although the story of Mothman has its origins in the 1960s, the vast majority of people were not exposed to the story until 2002. That was when a movie on the mystery surfaced. It was titled The Mothman Prophecies, and starred Richard Gere, and was based upon John Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies. There are solid reasons to believe that Mothman is a creature with the ability to shapeshift – and into more than one form. But, first, a bit of background on the monster is required.
Point Pleasant, West Virginia is a city of around four and a half thousand people. In 1774, the city became the site of a now-historic battle between the forces of Colonel Andrew Lewis and Native Americans from the Shawnee and Mingo groups, and overseen by Shawnee Chief Cornstalk. It was a bloody and violent battle that Cornstalk’s people lost. Despite the historic nature of the battle, there is no doubt that it has been eclipsed by a series of events which occurred between November 1966 and December 1967: the reign of Mothman.
It all began on November 12, 1966 – as John Keel noted in his book. On the night in question, a large, humanoid figure was seen –somewhat appropriately – in the heart of a local graveyard. The witnesses, a group of workmen, described the beast as being brown in color and sporting a pair of large wings. The legend had duly begun. And it had no intention of stopping. Seventy-two hours later, the Mothman was seen again; this time by Steve and Mary Mallette and Roger and Linda Scarberry. At the time, they were driving around an area known locally as the TNT Plant. Its official title, however, was the West Virginia Ordnance Works – today, called the McClintic Wildlife Management Area – a place at which TNT was manufactured and stored during the Second World War. The volatile material was stored in large igloo-like structures that, today, are overgrown by trees and bushes, and which give off a decidedly weird vibe when one walks around them – and particularly so at night.
For the Scarberrys and the Mallettes, all young at the time, it was just a typical night, one spent cruising around the plant, having fun and hanging out, noted Keel. That all changed when all four saw a pair of what appeared to be bright red eyes peering out of the surrounding darkness. Curiosity quickly became overwhelming fear when the two couples realized that the eyes were attached to a large figure, around seven feet in height, and with large, powerful-looking wings.
All four quickly realized it was time to flee the area – which they did. The accelerator was pushed to the floor and they raced back to the heart of the town – and with the winged monster pursuing them every step of the way. Trying to shake off the flying beast proved to be a hopeless task: it doggedly chased them for miles. They quickly headed to the police station, at which point the monster soared away into the darkness. It was clear to the police that this was no prank: all four were chilled to the bone and in deep states of stress and anxiety. Statements were made and a file was opened – not unlike a definitive X-File, one might say. To the horror of everyone, this was not the end of things. Mothman was soon back. Very soon.
As December 1966 loomed large on the horizon, a man named Thomas Ury encountered Mothman while driving past a field on Route 62, which is situated north of the old TNT plant. He too described the red-eyed beast as humanoid in shape, gray (rather than brown) in color, and which took to the skies in a very strange fashion: instead of flapping its wings like a bird or a bat, it stretched out its wings and rose vertically into the air – an action that Ury likened to the rise of a helicopter. Unfortunately for Ury, Mothman had clearly seen him; that much was evidenced by the fact that it quickly pursued him, and in much the same way it had the Scarberrys and the Mallettes a couple of weeks earlier. Ruth Foster – from Charleston – had the misfortune to come face to face with Mothman only days later. Once again the fiery eyes and large wings dominated the story. Attempts to explain everything away as owls, cranes, and large birds of prey were immediately dismissed as ridiculous by the witnesses.
Perhaps inevitably, when the media got into the controversy, just about everyone in and around Point Pleasant was talking about the creature, as Mothman authorities Jeff Wamsley and Donnie Sergent, Jr., noted in their book, Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend. They weren’t just discussing it, however: they were out at the TNT plant, and amid the thick woods, looking for it. And in their droves, too. The Point Pleasant Police were neither pleased nor amused. By the situation, which threatened to spiral out of control. A warning was put out that anyone found carrying a gun around the plant would be arrested on site. Sightings of Mothman continued as 1966 gave way to 1967. Reports of UFO activity abounded and even the dreaded Men in Black were seen, turning up on doorsteps late at night, and warning people not to talk about their encounters with Mothman. Point Pleasant was, by now, a place gripped and overwhelmed by fear, panic, and paranoia.
That was nothing compared to the events that occurred in December 1967, however. Death and overwhelming tragedy were just around the corner. It was on the night of the 15th of the month that Point Pleasant’s huge Silver Bridge reached breaking point, and plunged into the waters of the Ohio River, killing dozens of people in the process. It is notable that, although Mothman did not vanish after the terrible events of December 15, reports certainly dropped off significantly.
The people of Point Pleasant have not forgotten Mothman, the many and varied encounters with the beast, or the collapse of the bridge and the unfortunate souls whose lives were lost on that fateful night. Each and every year, the town holds the Mothman Festival. It is a hugely popular event, one which attracts thousands of visitors. In 2016 – the 50th anniversary of the first Mothman encounter – the festival attracted more than 10,000 people, all of them eager and excited to but Mothman t-shirts, keyrings, fridge magnets, books, paintings, and even Mothman pancakes and burgers! Local bands and a Miss Mothman pageant added to the entertainment. The specter of death and tragedy still haunts the area, however.
Today, there are two primary theories for Mothman’s presence in Point Pleasant during the 1960s. Some researchers of the phenomenon view Mothman as a Grim Reaper-type entity, one which provokes tragedy and loss of life. Others, however, are of the opinion that Mothman specifically manifested to warn people of the looming disaster. Whatever the truth, Mothman is now as much a part of American folklore as it is an integral entity of monster-hunting. All of which brings us to the matter of shapeshifting.
While the classic image of Mothman is that of a large, humanoid entity with blazing red eyes, not everyone has described the creature in such a fashion. In September 2016 I drove to Point Pleasant with good friend and fellow creature seeker, Ken Gerhard. We were there to attend, and speak at, the Mothman Festival. While we were in town we received a number of accounts that presented Mothman in a very different light. Yes, witnesses told us of seeing the classic imagery that has now become famous. It is illuminating to note, however, that some reports were very different.
I received a report of a creature seen at the site of the old, long-collapsed, bridge that resembled the legendary Thunderbird of Native American folklore – a gigantic, eagle-like bird note for its dazzling, colored feathers. In sharp contrast, an elderly woman – also at the Mothman Festival – told me of how she had seen what she believed to have been Mothman – out at the TNT area in 1971 – but that it eerily resembled a pterodactyl, a flying reptile that existed from the Triassic to the Cretaceous Period, and which spanned 228 to 66 million years ago. It may come as a surprise to many to learn that reports of flying monsters that have a distinct pterodactyl-type appearance surface regularly, every year, across the United States – and particularly so on the Texas-Mexico border.
It scarcely needs saying that the idea that there might be the home of multiple flying monsters – such as a brown-colored humanoid, a grey-hued and manlike thing, a pterodactyl, and a Native American Thunderbird – stretches credulity to breaking point. Far more likely, we are dealing with a supernatural entity which can take on the appearance of multiple flying enigmas.